All about Heel Pain

When heel pain occurs, it can be a major disruption to your day-to-day routine, especially if you live a busy, active life. Luckily, there are ways to treat heel pain that can help you get back on your feet again.

An inside look at heel pain

Heel pain is more common than you might think. One out of ten of us experience prolonged heel pain at least once in our lives. That being said, it is more common among middle-aged people, those who live an active lifestyle or who are on their feet a lot.[1] In most cases, heel pain is caused by an injury of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the other bones in the foot. If the plantar fascia is strained, it can become weakened, swollen or inflamed, causing pain in your heel when you stand or walk.[2]

Link to: Heel Pain when walking (planned Active Feet content)

Recognising heel pain: Don’t ignore the early signs

Whether you work on your feet or you juggle a busy life, our schedules often require a bit of a jog (sometimes even a sprint!) to get through the day. However, staying active while suffering from heel pain could lead to long-term injury which might eventually require expensive medical treatment or physical therapy further down the line.[3] Luckily, there are preventive steps to prevent heel pain and go on with your busy life. The first step is knowing what to look out for:

  • Pain*

Heel pain is usually a localized pain either directly below the heel or just behind it.  This pain may not be experienced the whole day. Sometimes it is triggered by certain movements, such a going up the stairs or standing on your tiptoes.[4] Often, heel pain occur first thing in the morning when you’ve taken your first steps after a night’s sleep.[5] While this might improve throughout the day, it can recur after prolonged standing or exercise.

  • Uneven Walking

Heel pain often occurs in one heel rather than both.[6] If you find yourself adjusting the way you walk, it may be that you are avoiding the pain of putting your weight fully on a certain foot. While this may relieve the pain, it’s important to examine the reason why you adjust your step. After all, your feet are strongly connected to your legs and back, and developing an unnatural step could lead to adverse effects on other parts of your body.[7]

Infographic: How your Feet Impact your Whole Body (planned Active Feet content)

  • Tired Feet

Although tired feet are not a direct symptom of heel pain, it may be a sign that you are putting your feet under too much strain, which can lead to heel pain over time. So, even if you are simply feeling stiffness in your feet after a long day’s work, consider some of the preventative measures listed below so you can keep that spring in your step for years to come.

Taking Steps to Treat and Prevent Heel Pain:

Heel pain is generally considered to be highly treatable especially when detected early, with most people affected making a full recovery.[8] While it’s not the kind of ailment that will go away overnight, with a little patience and a few simple recovery techniques, you could be back to walking, skipping and even running again before you know it.

Treatment

  • Rest Up

As with any part of the body, rest is essential to recovery. Try to minimise the time spent on your feet during the day and give yourself some time to put your feet up in the evenings. It is always good to have an excuse to watch your favourite movies again! Some specialists also recommend cold compress to relieve the pain.[9]

  • Stretch it Out

Your daily commute may not feel like a workout, but it is important to stretch before starting your daily activities. Exercises to stretch your calves and the area beneath your feet help you warm up, improve flexibility and speed up recovery time.[10] Check out our Foot Gymnastics feature for nine steps to stretch and restore flexibility of your feet.

Video: The Science behind Insoles (planned Active Feet content)

Prevention

You may have a spring in your step now, but heel pain can pop up any time, so it is a good idea to be prepared to prevent problems in the future:

  • Stay Supported

It’s important to wear footwear that keeps your arches supported, helping to prevent strain and acting as a shock absorber when your feet impact the ground. It is better to avoid shoes which are completely flat with no heel support. Changing your footwear regularly is also a good idea. For more advice on choosing the right shoes to support your feet, check out our feature on how incorrect shoes can lead to heel pain.

  • Try Insoles for Extra Support

When you’re not keeping them up on the sofa, it’s important that your feet get the additional support they need throughout the day.

  • Light on your Feet

Think of the distances your feet carry you in a year. For every mile we walk our arches bear between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds of stress.[11] Minimising the pressure we put on our feet can help reduce the risk of heel pain. This means maintaining a healthy weight by staying active and choosing a healthy, balanced diet. It also means lightening the load you carry every day. For instance, if you are a student, leaving your heavy books in the locker overnight rather than carrying them home will lighten your daily load.

  • Smart Sport

When we run, the pressure of our bodyweight on our feet multiplies by up to seven times![12] As with everyday shoes, it’s important to choose training shoes which offer adequate support and cushioning against the impact of the ground. Depending on how you like to stay fit, there are different shoes designed to suit different activities, so talk to a specialist before choosing your next pair of training shoes. Insoles are a great way of adding extra support and cushion to your sport shoes. These will help you work out longer and to prevent heel pain. Finally, it is important to consider the types of surfaces you are on like when jogging or playing football. Hard concrete can be quite harsh on your feet, compared to grass or indoor flooring.[13]

Curbing your Heel Pain

While heel pain can be annoying, most people make a full recovery without the need for invasive medical treatment with a little patience and a few lifestyle adjustments. Be sure to talk to your doctor if your symptoms become severe or disturbing. Remember to keep an eye out for early warning signs, and take preventative measures even if you do not currently experience any pain. Whether you plan on running a marathon in the near future, or you simply need to get from A to B, take good care of your feet and they will surely support you for the years to come.

 

 

*It is important to talk to your doctor if your heel pain becomes severe or disturbing.

 

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heel-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[2] http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/plantar-fasciitis-topic-overview

[3] http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/86143-treatment#d1

[4] http://www.foot-pain-explored.com/heel-pain-causes.html

[5] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heel-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[6] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heel-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[7] https://www.verywell.com/how-to-walk-walking-posture-3432476

[8] http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/86143-overview#a7

[9] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/heel-pain/Pages/Treatment.aspx

[10] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/heel-pain/Pages/Treatment.aspx

[11] Scott, A.S. and Fong, E. (2015). Body Structures & Functions, Chapter 6, pp98

[12] http://www.scpod.org/contact-us/press/press-releases/fit-feet/

[13] http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/get-leg-best-surfaces-run?page=3&cc=GB